The current spate of ram raids across New Zealand show organised crime continues to be a serious problem for retailers.
Shopping malls, high-end stores and dairies are being hit seemingly nightly by vehicle-mounted thieves targeting clothing, cigarettes, luxury goods, and other attractive portable items.
Media coverage, political commentary, and police reportage all agree that the attacks represent a spike and are noteworthy for their frequency and brazenness. A late April ram raid of Ormiston Mall in Auckland, for example, involved three vehicles and several perpetrators.
What commentators can't agree on are the factors contributing to the spike. Nor are they particularly aligned on the solutions.
Scott La Franchie, FIRST Security’s general manager – marketing and product, identifies the levers available to retailers to protect their stores, people, and product.
La Franchie sees three simple cause and effect relationships:
- Risk and Reward: The potential rewards to perpetrators from successful ram raids currently outweigh the risks.
- Likelihood and Consequence: When calculating the risk involved, perpetrators consider failure's likelihood and consequences.
- Security and Law Enforcement:Security measures and law enforcement response dictate the likelihood of failure. How can retailers better secure their premises?
Crime: Risk and Reward
Why has there been a spike in ram raids and related retail crime? Who is doing it, what's behind it, and how long has it been happening for?
According to police assistant commissioner Richard Chambers, data indicates that 88 per cent of the ram raid offenders are under 20 years of age and the majority are under 17. Oranga Tamariki says most of those involved in the recent spike in youth crime are kids they’re already working with.
Detective Inspector Karen Bright has also commented that offenders as young as 11 years old have been posting their exploits online and that this is “driving some of the offending," she said. Also influencing the offending, she said, are broader issues around education, family dynamics and social media.
Many retailers, and the political opposition, blame law enforcement resourcing, the police pursuit policy, the justice system’s approach to juvenile offending, and a government apparently ‘soft on crime’.
While any or all of the above factors may have some relevance, none of them directly explain why the spike is happening right now.
According to the Youth Justice Indicators Summary Report – December 2021, for example, offending rates among youth have dropped by 63% over the past decade, which diminishes perspectives pointing to youth issues as a driver. Furthermore, education, government justice, and law enforcement policies significantly predate the current spike.
The spike has coincided with what many call a 'cost of living crisis', following a three-decade-high annual inflation rate of 5.9 per cent.
Various studies have found that inflation is a driver of property crimes such as theft. By lowering the real incomes of people already struggling to make ends meet, inflation increases the demand for stolen goods, creating an economic environment that motivates thieves.
Ultimately, the conversation around what’s driving this spike in retail crime can be distilled in terms of the risk/reward ratio – the risk of getting caught versus the potential reward. For example, suppose we accept the premise that inflation increases demand for stolen goods. In that case, we can conclude that the spike in retail crime results from a calculation by organised perpetrators that increased demand means increased reward.
Risk: Likelihood and Consequence
While macroeconomic factors may have pushed up the reward side of the risk/reward equation for perpetrators, what about the risk side?
Risk is typically calculated as the function of likelihood and consequence (risk = likelihood x consequence). The likelihood is the probability of an event occurring, and the consequence is the impact of the occurrence.
In the context of a thief perpetrating a criminal act, the risk borne by the thief is the likelihood of failure (e.g. walking away with nothing or walking away in handcuffs) times the potential consequences of failure (e.g. penalties such as a criminal record or custodial sentence).
If a perpetrator considers the likelihood of failure related to a potential job to be high, they might decide against it and consider an alternative plan. Similarly, if the likelihood of failure is low but the potential consequences are significant, the perpetrator may consider the job too risky.
But, if a potential job is perceived as involving a low likelihood and low consequence of failure, then it’s game on.
It’s a stark equation for retailers. However, as the criminal justice system is solely responsible for the penalty levers that dictate the 'consequence' side of the equation, this leaves retailers to attempt tweaking the 'likelihood' side. In other words, what can retailers do to increase a shoplifter's likelihood of failure?
Likelihood: Security and Law Enforcement
Apart from the perpetrator’s skill in the planning and execution of an act, the two key factors influencing their likelihood of failure are the efficacy of any security measures that are in place and police response.
While retailers can’t control the law enforcement approach to retail crime (apart from reporting crimes to the police and lobbying for greater police focus on retail crime), they can exert control over how they secure their stores.
Security measures can deter, delay, detect and obstruct shoplifting. CCTV, for example, can act as a visible deterrent and a tool for detection. Bollards can prevent ram raids and ultimately deny them success. Locks and other security measures can delay intruders, and a security guarding presence delivers strong deterrence, observational and reporting capability and an effective interface with police responders.
La Franchie notes that existing retail clients have increasingly reached out to FIRST Security for additional protection at their stores.
“FIRST Security officers and remote monitoring have provided a strong presence to help deter those seeking to take advantage of retail owners."
Ultimately, security measures are least effective when used as 'point solutions' and most effective when deployed as part of a range of measures specific to the premises and its threats. The most effective measures are the result of good professional security advice.